By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
I can’t tell you exactly how many hours dribbled away in the process, but it was too many. There was a two-hour committee meeting early this month, and then another committee meeting that was shorter because almost no one attended. Then there was the 90-minute council-meeting debate and passage on Tuesday last week, through which I sat dumbfounded, missing scarcely one precious word.
Councilwoman Ruth Galanter blamed it all on the new charter. Councilman Nate Holden said it would foment ”hatred.“ Councilman Hal Bernson wondered if the proposal at hand would be ”conducive of good relations among the council [members].“ Councilman Joel Wachs boasted that he might have been afflicted by the measure for his past indiscretions regarding closed-session debates.
These members‘ words had been pretty much the same each time around. Meaning that the Los Angeles City Council wasted -- in this month alone so far -- close to five hours of its precious time debating in depth, and then passing, a measure which had no realistic effect on anyone. Even themselves, who were supposed to be most affected.
Yes, folks, this was the infamous City Council censureship motion. The Los Angeles City Council now can censure members who stray from ”high standards.“ Not that they couldn’t do so earlier -- why, they actually did so just 24 years ago: two members at once, in fact. (More on that later.) Much effort has recently gone into the censureship matter, nevertheless. The odd, net result is that it is now harder to censure a council member than it ever has been before. There are two reasons for this not-necessarily-intended outcome. One of them is City Councilman Mike Hernandez. The other is City Councilman Mike Feuer.
Hernandez, whom I like to think of as a quite decent fellow with occasional impulse-control problems, started it all three years ago when he managed to get nailed on a dark, downtown street corner buying a little cocaine. Now, as it happened, the council then had (so far as we know) one other coke-snorting member, Richard Alatorre. But Alatorre had not yet managed to get caught. So much of the council (Alatorre, wisely and charitably, abstained) poured their seething-hot dudgeon upon the hapless Hernandez. As did the Los Angeles Times and assorted, lesser publications, when they demanded his immediate resignation. Soon this dudgeon level rose to the point where Feuer (with his associate, Laura Chick) felt they could float upon it a raft of new penalties for councilpersonic misbehavior -- ranging from expulsion down to a sort of all-around deep-set frown.
But then, as if by magic, the dudgeon drained away. Feuer‘s motion ran into a detail of critics as various as this columnist and Councilman Nate Holden (who, in his rather sexist way, termed Feuer and Chick a couple of ”Westside Ku Klux Klansmen“) before it vanished into the bottomless, unechoing depths of the council’s own Rules and Elections Committee, never to be seen again (R&E being one of those caverns into which far more footprints go than emerge).
So then Feuer took his proposals to the two charter commissions. Remember them? The commissions‘ members were watching the national impeachment debate when not conducting their own excruciating colloquies. The elected charter-reform commissioners devoted weeks of their own discourse to Feuer’s proposal while Congress discussed whether to impeach or, for that matter, censure our president.
The result? Feuer‘s proposal made it into the charter, shorn of all his tougher provisions. While they were at it, the charter mavens also did an incredible thing; under the previous statute, a council could censure one of its members by an 8-out-of-15 vote. Although the censure process hadn’t been applied since 1976, the charter folk thought that was far too often; so now it takes 10 votes.
In other words, poor Feuer, who for two years had been seeking to make official council disapproval of a member more of a hazard, ended up making it less of one. After all, if the council could have found the eight votes under the old rules, it would surely have censured Hernandez. But if those votes weren‘t there, back in 1997, just imagine how much harder it would have been to get 10 votes for the same purpose. In other words, if you didn’t like the idea of censure very much, the new system was an improvement.
If not, not. In any case, the council last week passed it 12-2, with the two no votes cast by Bernson, who‘s run afoul of the Ethics Commission on his officeholder account, and Holden, notorious for billing the city for his defense attorney in sundry sex-harassment suits.
Which made no difference whatsoever; the debate and vote were a sham. We Angelenos already voted for the charter. That election brought the new rule into effect (as of later this year). The new censure rule would therefore be law even if the council had voted 12-2 against it. So why, in a month in which Acting Assistant Attorney General Bill Lan Lee and his Department of Justice cohorts were hitting town in force, while the mayor’s staff kept silent on the matter of their arrival in order not to spoil Dick Riordan‘s birthday party, were our council members spending more time debating a nugatory measure over which they had no control? Instead of, perhaps, the state of the Los Angeles police force?